1. Doubtless you’ve heard, but in a true laugh-or-you’ll-cry moment, Ben Franklin’s notorious “God helps those who help themselves” motto was quoted as Scripture from quite an auspicious, or I should say audacious, pulpit this past week. This just a few weeks after the Atlanta branch of my church put forward an out-of-nowhere (or, you could argue, an if-the-shoe-fits) proposal to rehabilitate Mockingbird baddie numero uno… Let’s just say it’s been a tough few weeks for us Augustinians.

2. A wonderful profile in The NY Times of Vito Aiuto and his church, Resurrection Pres in Brooklyn. You may remember him from such indie-gospel-folk duos as The Welcome Wagon. The pastor speaks with rare humility and insight – his conversion account is particularly poignant:

[Mr. Aiuto] described himself as a “garden-variety fraternity guy” who experienced a spiritual conversion at age 20, when he had an anxiety attack after taking too many caffeine pills washed down with beer during exam time. “I felt like I was going to die,” Mr. Aiuto said. “I felt like I was plunging into this black hole, and I said: ‘Dear God, if you’re real, please make this stop. I guess I’ll change my life, and I don’t know what it’ll mean, but you have to help me.’ ”

Nothing happened, and he left his exams and retreated home. “I had perceived my life as an amusement park ride: I’m going to do the most drugs and be with the most people and do the most extravagant things and pretending I’m Jack Kerouac, and nobody’s experienced this like I have,” Mr. Aiuto said. “I kept thinking, ‘You got to a place where you were so desperate you knew that if there’s a God, only God could help you,’ and the dominoes fell pretty quickly after that.”

3. In the Harvard Business Review, “The George Costanza Approach to Fixing Fatal Flaws” is an apparently serious attempt to inductively draw a self-improvement principle from one of our favorite Seinfeld episodes: “Identify exactly what you’re doing that’s unacceptable and do the opposite.” That it ignores George’s utter (and hilarious) inability to affect any lasting change in his life is probably beside the point…

4. Some timely commentary on the counter-productivity of culture war tactics by Chaplain Mike over at The Internet Monk, using Prohibition (and Ken Burns’ recent documentary on the subject) as a case study in the impotence of the Law, “When Christians Won the Culture War,” ht CB. Be sure to read to the end.

5. In Zombie journalism, we have Mbird fav Heather Havrilesky’s exceedingly clever “Steve Jobs: Vampire, Bill Gates: Zombie” in The NY Times Magazine (Pharisees and Sadducees: Zombies. Jesus: Vampire. Duh!) and “First, Eat All Lawyers” on Slate, a slightly more serious piece that chalks the Zombie craze up to economic woes.

6. Quick Whit Stillman/Damsels in Distress update: The reviews for Damsels have turned from good to great – as some of us knew they would – and a tentative wider release date has been set for Spring 2012. To tide you over, Whit’s wrote up The Shop Around the Corner (the 1940 adaptation of the same play that the Ephrons used for You’ve Got Mail) in this past Sunday’s NY Times does not disappoint:

The exalted idealism of [Margaret] Sullavan’s correspondence with her unknown “Dear Friend” and [Jimmy] Stewart’s aspirations for self-improvement by encyclopedia reading are reminders of the virtuous resolution making of early and not-so-early adulthood. The film’s timeless quality suggests the lasting attractions of Christmas, changing with the period of one’s life but not so much between the generations. Perhaps its greatest charm is as a loving portrayal of a microcosm of humanity, the shop employees each playing their necessary parts as if divinely ordained and not just Lubitsch-arranged — the God of heaven manifest on Earth, or at least on film.

6. In film, the recent indie-double feature of Win Win and Submarine have already made it a great year at the cinema (the most underrated picture of 2011 being Rango, imho), and with Hugo, The Muppets, The Descendents, Immortals and Herzog’s Into the Abyss on the immediate horizon, it shows no signs of slowing down. What have you enjoyed this year?

7. A remarkably literal but no less heartwarming account of Judgment and Love from a few weeks ago in The NY Times, ht WL.

8. A new psychological study shows that people don’t follow their own directions when walking from A to B, ht JD.

9. I’m as big a Blankets fan as the next graphic novel afficianado, but Craig Thompson’s recent interview with The A/V Club, where he sounds off at some length about “imperialistic Christianity,” while not entirely unsympathetic (e.g. the self-loathing angle), is still a little hard to stomach.

But speaking of Rango:

And then there’s this, which may seem a little patronizing (if hilarious) at first, but ends on a beautiful note: