Another Week Ends

1. The Internet Monk invited us to do a guest post on 9/11 this week, […]

David Zahl / 9.9.11

1. The Internet Monk invited us to do a guest post on 9/11 this week, and RJ Heijmen, Mbird contributor and head honcho at St Paul’s in NYC, took up the gauntlet. His reflection is entitled “In Love’s Service Only Wounded Soldiers Can Serve,” and it’s very much worth your time, and not only because he moved to NYC on Sept 14, 2001. A few poignant portions include:

As the weather began to turn cooler, my wife and I noticed dark evening rings around our throats as we pulled off our turtlenecks – dust carried from the site by the winds and deposited in the crevice between our skin and garments. I shudder now to think of the composition of that greasy soot.

Yet for all the death, destruction and despair, that Fall was also a profoundly hopeful, almost joyful time in New York, as the city seemed to rediscover its humanity. 9/11 prompted frantic New Yorkers to reconsider what really mattered, to recalibrate their priorities and motivations. New York came together like never before, and a certain graciousness, civility, even tenderness pervaded daily interactions. My wife and I had girded ourselves for the “big bad city,” but instead we encountered kindness and consideration: unexpected “God bless you’s” when we sneezed, strangers making room for us at cafes and restaurants. Thornton Wilder has written that “in love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve,” and New York seemed a demonstration of this truth…

9/11 also shattered New Yorkers’ (and Americans’, with the possible exception of the defeated South) sense of invulnerability, of unassailability. We were brought into contact with our mortality, our fragility. We could no longer live in denial of death and suffering, either here or abroad. We had to acknowledge our essential powerlessness, our need…

In U2‘s song “Yahweh”, Bono sings that, with God, there is “always pain before the child is born,” always “darkness before the dawn”. What he means is that, in God’s economy, suffering seems always to precede deliverance.  Good Friday must always come before Easter morning. The Bible shows us, time and time again, the pattern of the cruciform life, how God “kills and makes alive”, how He levels before He raises up. For New York, for America, there have been few, if any, more excruciating days than September 11th, 2001. Yet, as we place our faith in the risen Jesus, we place it as well in the God who brings life out of death, working all things together for our good.

2. On a slightly lighter note, could it be that the Mancession is doing a double-dip of it own? Hanna Rosin continues her coverage of this country’s male crisis over at The Atlantic. In an interesting twist, her much blogged-about article “The End of Men” proved particularly influential at the big networks, who are giving us a wide array of sad-but-funny schlumpy guys to choose from this Fall:

Some of their names are interchangeable–Man Up!, Last Man Standing, How to Be a Gentleman. They all feature men who are unemployed or underemployed, love to play video games, and are desperately in need of a makeover…In this generation of sitcoms, the wives are working double shifts or getting promotions while the men sit around confused. The potential for fresh comic tableaux is endless. Husband lies to wife about how much hockey he watches during the day while he’s supposed to be taking care of the baby. Sister does homework while brother feed,s orange juice to the dog. Wife sends husband to buy cheese and he comes home with a giant orange wheel. Wife sends husband to buy yogurt and he is humiliated… TV Guide called this the season of “the emasculation of men on TV.” The Wall Street Journal summarized new sitcom man this way: “He’s pretty happy. He respects his wife, loves his kids, helps around the house. So how come he feels like a total loser?” The shows go so heavy on this loser theme that if it weren’t for the standard sitcom punch line they might be Urban Cowboy-level depressing.

Slate, on the other hand, takes stock of this Fall’s leading ladies in its article “The New Girls.” Apparently the messages are just as mixed on the fairer side of the fence (Leslie Knope notwithstanding!):

You might think that this one-two punch of promising-sounding sitcoms about young women and fairly repugnant shows about middle-aged men (Man Up thinks that using “vagina” as an insult is the height of hilarity), would mean that this is the moment for young, female creators to really say something bold about the women of their generation women who dreamed of being Claire Huxtable, not June Cleaver.

Unfortunately that’s not the case. Instead, the slew of new lady comedies rehash old stereotypes about long-term relationships between men and women, the elaborateness of female grooming rituals, and using feminine wiles to get what you want. As Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker puts it in his preview of The New Girl and Two Broke Girls, “These two shows aren’t so much about girl power as girl strategy.”

There’s a larger non-sitcom dynamic worth mentioning that the Slate article picks up on: the men on television these days may be a demoralized bunch, but on the whole, they also tend to be more interesting characters than their female counterparts. I’m thinking about Breaking Bad, Luther, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, etc. So the gender roles have shifted but the aesthetics are as slanted as ever. As much as I enjoy Damages, now that Tami Taylor is off the air, I’d welcome a show about a woman who’s more than just an inverted caricature (and/or hopelessly bound up with identity politics). Sarah Braverman on Parenthood is probably the closest we’ll get this Fall, or The Good Wife on a good day. Maybe it’s just that Showtime has single-handedly tarnished female-driven shows by giving their high-profile leading ladies such drivel to work with. Joss Whedon, if we ever needed you, we need you now!

3. Speaking of men and their increasingly flagrant grasping at (Pelagian) straws, The New Yorker ran a terrifically entertaining profile on 4-hour man Timothy Ferriss recently. He’s a mixed bag but perhaps not as cringe-worthy you might imagine, even if the “maximize your potential” stuff sounds positively Scientological:

Every generation gets the self-help guru that it deserves… In the past decade or so, there has been a rise in books such as “Who Moved My Cheese?,” by Spencer Johnson, which promise to help readers maximize their professional potential in an era of unpredictable workplaces.Ferriss’s books appeal to those for whom cheese, per se, has ceased to have any allure. “This book is not about finding your ‘dream job,’ ” Ferriss writes in “The 4-Hour Workweek.” “I will take it as a given that, for most people, somewhere between six and seven billion of them, the perfect job is the one that takes the least time.” But Ferriss doesn’t recommend idleness. Rather, he prescribes a kind of hyperkinetic entrepreneurialism of the body and soul, with every man his own life coach, angel investor, Web master, personal trainer, and pharmaceutical test subject.

Finding one’s muse, like catching one’s rabbit before cooking it, is more easily said than done, but Ferriss’s advocacy of liberation from the workplace has had a wide appeal, especially among younger people to whom the workplace may be unattainable in the first place, given the unemployment rate. Similarly, his latest book, “The 4-Hour Body,” speaks to the peculiar obsessions and insecurities of the young American male.

4. Next, The Economist asks, “Who Would Jesus Hack?” I knew there was something sacred about file-sharing! ht TB:

Hackers were the origin of the “open source” movement which creates and distributes software that is free in two senses: it costs nothing and its underlying code can be modified by anyone to fit their needs. “In a world devoted to the logic of profit,” wrote [Italian Jesuit Priest, Anthony] Spadaro, hackers and Christians have “much to give each other” as they promote a more positive vision of work, sharing and creativity. He is not the only person to see an affinity between the open-source hacker ethos and Christianity. Catholic open-source advocates have founded a group called Elèutheros to encourage the church to endorse such software. Its manifesto refers to “strong ideal affinities between Christianity, the philosophy of free software, and the adoption of open formats and protocols”.

5. In music, George Harrison made the cover of Rolling Stone this month, and the article contains a number of gems about the Dark Horse. Talking about his father’s love of gardening, Dhani Harrison says, “When you’re in a really beautiful garden, it reminds you constantly of God.” Also in music, the Atlantic reports on the two conflicting views on monogamy found in Jay-Z and Kayne West’s Watch the Throne. I bet you can guess whose view is finding the healthier expression. Wilco’s gearing up for the release of The Whole Love – they streamed it for 24 hours this week and then released the first video, for the Gospel-toting “Born Alone”. Which is not this:


6. In humor, The Onion reports, “Bill Watterson Writes, Illustrates, Shreds New ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Strip Every Morning Out of Spite.”

7. Finally, one of our favorite articles of the past few years is definitely David McRaney’s “On Procrastination,” orginally published on his You Are Not So Smart blog. We’re even featuring our little write-up of it in the slider this week. Well, it turns out David is turning his blog into a book, and the first “trailer,” which focuses exclusively on procrastination, is here: