Another Week Ends

1. Newsweek published an excerpt of D.T. Max’s forthcoming Every Love Story Is a Ghost […]

David Zahl / 8.24.12

1. Newsweek published an excerpt of D.T. Max’s forthcoming Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace and what an excerpt! It concerns Wallace’s relationship with Mary Karr, and the genus of Infinite Jest. Almost enough to dispel the reservations we voiced earlier this week. It also makes for a great lead-in to another literary find, the blog for The Library of America’ amazing interview with Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell, the editor of the forthcoming Jack Kerouac: Collected Poems. Asked why she thinks Kerouac’s poems still speak to us, she gave the following (jaw-dropping) answer, which gets at the very heart of what it means to ‘reach’ people:

I heard the late Peter Gomes say in a sermon that the Incarnation proved a success when Christ cried out from the cross, “Father, why have you abandoned me!”—Christ felt then fully what it is like to be born human.

Kerouac’s poems still speak to us because he did undress for us, in order to reach this element of Soul that we all share, this universal experience of being alive, the human abandonment—the rage, the fear, the pain; the desire to partake of more of the goodness we encounter all too rarely, and which we could distribute much more selflessly, if it weren’t for the rage, the fear, the pain . . . we recognize it all in Kerouac’s poems, we empathize with him while being moved.

2. Did you see the NY Times op-ed “Germany’s Lutheran Austerity Core” last week? While one wonders if there’s not a little wishful thinking going on, it’s still nice to see the Great Reformer mentioned in such a positive, and largely accurate light:

“If their Lutheran heritage of sacrificing for their neighbors makes Germans choose austerity, it also leads them to social engagement. In classic Lutheran teaching, the salvation of the believer “by faith alone” does not curtail the need for constant charitable good works, as ill-informed critics allege. Faith, rather, empowers the believer to act in the world by taking the worry out of his present and future religious life.”

3. Next, the rubber met the road this week in “The Practicality of Law-Gospel Theology”, an extraordinarily vulnerable and moving meditation by Tullian Tchividjian on a recent crisis at his church (and in his life). A pastoral tour-de-force.

4. A fascinating write-up in The Atlantic of a new book on sleep and dreaming, Rosalind Cartwright’s The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives. It may not exactly be breaking news to say that dreams are one of the mechanisms by which we process negative emotions. But what’s interesting here is the notion that dreaming plays a key role in identity formation, allowing us to subconsciously tailor our experiences to fit our preconceived ideas of who we are. Theologically speaking, this means that we hard at work managing our righteousness even when we are not aware of it. Our dream life has always struck me as the nail in the coffin of  Semi-Pelagian modes of thinking, that is, given the uncontrollable wildness of what we often dream about (and Christ’s interest in the internal life), for the good news to be any good, it simply cannot be contingent on some form of conscious “doing” – it must extend to those things that we cannot control:

[In] good sleepers, the mind is continuously active, reviewing experience from yesterday, sorting which new information is relevant and important to save due to its emotional saliency. Dreams are not without sense, nor are they best understood to be expressions of infantile wishes. They are the result of the interconnectedness of new experience with that already stored in memory networks. But memory is never a precise duplicate of the original; instead, it is a continuing act of creation. Dream images are the product of that creation. They are formed by pattern recognition between some current emotionally valued experience matching the condensed representation of similarly toned memories. Networks of these become our familiar style of thinking, which gives our behavior continuity and us a coherent sense of who we are. Thus, dream dimensions are elements of the schemas, and both represent accumulated experience and serve to filter and evaluate the new day’s input.

Sleep is a busy time, interweaving streams of thought with emotional values attached, as they fit or challenge the organizational structure that represents our identity. One function of all this action, I believe, is to regulate disturbing emotion in order to keep it from disrupting our sleep and subsequent waking functioning.

5. I’ve yet to see this show Rev everyone is talking about, but after reading The A/V Club interview with its makers, I very much want to. The series, currently only available on Hulu, follows the life of a Church of England vicar named Adam, as well as those of his wife, fellow clergy members, and parishioners. And it sounds like they’ve really done their research! According to The A/V Club, “The series’ look at faith is at once intimate and very funny—an unusual combination in the world of TV, which skews away from this subject matter, for the most part—and it’s rapidly turned into one of the best shows airing on any “network.”” Their discussion of the humorous aspects of prayer is brilliant, as is the way co-creator Tom Hollander, who also plays the Reverend in question (you may remember him from such roles as the sniveling Lord Beckett in Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy), answers the question about whether God exists in the universe of the show:

“We are conscious and careful to allow the possibility of the presence of God in it, without answering it. Most episodes contain a moment where there is a certain moment of grace, where something wonderful happens. Sometimes, it’s just a coincidence. In episode two, season one, Adam is saying, “Please dear God, can I fill the church, I’m about to be shot down,” and the very next thing that happens is the evangelical man walks in and fills the church.

At the end of episode two, season two, when Colin is baptized, that’s played completely straight, and you see what’s done for Colin. Whether God exists or not, the act of engaging the idea of God has done something for that character.

At the end of episode six, season one, when Adam’s been on an alcoholic bender and attacked everyone that he loves and behaved appallingly in every way, when he finds himself engaged in giving somebody the last rites on the verge of their death, he’s elevated by doing that in the name of something greater than himself.

6. On a separate TV note, as pictures from the set of the fourth season of Arrested Development slowly leak on to the Internet, do yourself a favor and read Splitsider’s hilarious and remarkably thorough look at 53 Arrested Development Jokes You Probably Missed. My favorite has to be Mr. Magician…

7. You know it’s a great week when two of your favorite bands (currently working) have sessions posted on Daytrotter: Sons of Bill and The Hill and Wood. Definitely, definitely worth signing up for the free trial.

8. A couple of other stray pop-culture links worth mentioning would be “Why Mormons Should Write Science Fiction” and “‘Paranorman’ Will Scare Kids, and That’s Good“. The latter includes some thoughts on abreaction from none other than Community ex-honcho Dan Harmon (who wrote Monster House!).

9. Finally, on Religion and Politics, Dana Logan traces the historical roots of the health food movement in What Graham Crackers Can Teach Us About Whole Foods, and let’s just say that the (sanctimonious) religiosity that plagues foodie culture today is no accident. And speaking of strict Law-keeping, Slate’s column about the growing numbers of vocal ex-Hasidim, Hasidic Jews and the Internet: A Bad Combination?, is just as interesting and relevant as you think it might be. If only all of us could be as righteous as this guy: