Another Week Ends

1. You may have heard the news that NY Times reporter David Carr died yesterday. I […]

David Zahl / 2.13.15


1. You may have heard the news that NY Times reporter David Carr died yesterday. I remember watching the documentary Page One a few years ago and being struck by Carr’s straight-shooting personality and street-smart charm. There was something iconic about him. Maybe it was just the filmmakers doing their thing, but Carr very much came across as the spirit of that esteemed institution, a man who had taken a supremely circuitous route to the top of the journalistic food chain and seemed as surprised as anyone to find himself there. I forget if he mentioned his history with addiction in the film, I think so. Anyway, in the wake of his sad death, Sarah Pulliam Bailey pulled up some remarkable soundbites for The Washington Post. Check out the description of his spiritual-religious life that Carr gave Terry Gross in 2011, ht SZ:

I’m a churchgoing Catholic, and I do that as a matter of, it’s good to stand with my family… It’s a wonderful … community. It’s not really where I find God. The accommodation I’ve reached is a very jerry-rigged one, which is: All along the way, in recovery, I’ve been helped without getting into specifics of names, by all of these strangers who get in a room and do a form of group-talk therapy and live by certain rules in their life — and one of the rules is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. Not only is that not a general human impulse, but it’s not an impulse of mine. And yet, I found myself doing that over and over again. Am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good?

That’s sort of as far as I’ve gotten with the higher-power thing. I’m kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I’ve done terrible things, and yet I’m for the most part able to be a decent person. … I think something else is working on me.


2. Amen to that. In Carr’s honor, I’m happy for today to be even more NY Times-centric than normal. First up would be David Brooks’ beautiful editorial on “The Act of Rigorous Forgiveness”. You don’t have to agree with all of Brooks’ many opinions to notice how every couple of months, like clockwork, he seems to drop an “are you kidding me?!” kind of column, this being a prime example. As the title suggests, the article finds him advocating for forgiveness, especially in relation to the debacle currently unfolding for NBC anchor Brian Williams. The topics he mentions at the outset–the hollowness of ladder-climbing and the cruelty of fame–are worthy ones, yet what made me do a doubletake was just how boldly he endorsed forgiveness. Brooks may stop short of invoking Luke 7, but he does go so far as to say that 1. True forgiveness does not require someone to ‘ask’ for it and 2. No one is innocent, i.e. we all need it. That second part nails one of the deepest cultural quagmires in which we find ourselves, IMHO. We are more than happy to admit that perpetrator narratives are never the full story (as the giants in Into The Woods reminded us), but it seems increasingly radical to suggest that the same applies to victimhood ones:

There’s something sad in Brian Williams’s need to puff up his Iraq adventures and something barbaric in the public response. The sad part is the reminder that no matter how high you go in life and no matter how many accolades you win, it’s never enough. The desire for even more admiration races ahead. Career success never really satisfies. Public love always leaves you hungry. Even very famous people can do self-destructive things in an attempt to seem just a little cooler.

The barbaric part is the way we respond to scandal these days. When somebody violates a public trust, we try to purge and ostracize him. A sort of coliseum culture takes over, leaving no place for mercy…


I do think we’d all be better off if we reacted to these sorts of scandals in a different way. The civic fabric would be stronger if, instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we tried to repair them, if we tried forgiveness instead of exiling…

Martin Luther King Jr. argued that forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s an attitude. We are all sinners. We expect sin, empathize with sin and are slow to think ourselves superior. The forgiving person is strong enough to display anger and resentment toward the person who has wronged her, but she is also strong enough to give away that anger and resentment. In this view, the forgiving person makes the first move, even before the offender has asked. She resists the natural urge for vengeance. Instead, she creates a welcoming context in which the offender can confess.

3. Also in The Times, a further excerpt from the Daniel Jones piece I touched on earlier this week (in the post on Valentines Week). Again, that column found Jones excavating the gazillions of submissions the paper receives for Modern Love throughout the year in hopes of discerning some trends. The gender-specific ones are fascinating, but another little observation stood out as particularly universal, and a timely if unconscious bit of pushback on the cult of productivity: 

It seems the harder we work at finding love, the more prone we are to second-guessing the results. High-volume online daters worry about this, along with those who routinely attend singles events. The fear is we may force things or compromise after pushing so hard for so long. We may admire hard work in most endeavors, but we admire laziness when it comes to finding love.

4. While we’re on the Valentine’s Day tip, The Economist weighed in on the “strangely” pronounced popularity of 50 Shades of Gray below the Mason-Dixon line, and ended up underlining one of our hobby horses:

Southern sexuality scholars say that watching Miss Steele being tied up and flogged by a handsome billionaire gives repressed women permission to delve into their inner naughtiness… Religious conservatism need not kill passion. Sermons decrying non-marital sex make people think about it even more, says Erin Clare, who teaches culture and sexuality at Arkansas Tech University. Beth, a student at a Christian university in Arkansas, worries that she might run into people she knows at a screening of “Fifty Shades”. That could be embarrassing. However, “they won’t say anything because they [will be] in the same situation,” she predicts.

For more on the Fifty Shades phenomenon (and sex in general), look no further.

5. Next, this made my week. Matt Zoller Seitz’s companion to The Grand Budapest Hotel came out on Tuesday, and to celebrate, Grantland ran a portion of the interview with director Wes Anderson. So glad I read to the very end, ht NL:

MZS: OK, here’s a big one: “In your filmic universe, is there a God, and if so, does God stand aloof or intervene?”

[Long pause.]

WA: God intervenes.

6. On a similarly inner-child-friendly note, Andrews McMeel announced the March release of Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue, which contains a new, lengthy interview with Bill Watterson! Also, and this is big, the fastest selling Playmobil toy of all time is none other than the Great Reformer himself, Martin Luther! That’s right, a limited edition of The Reformer (bible and quill in hand – see top) sold out in Germany in less than 72 hours. More should be available at the end of April–we’ll be sure to keep you posted.


7. On the music front, Dustin Kensrue of Thrice is getting ready to release a new solo record and the first ‘single’, “Back to Back”, hit the web this week. It’s an awesome song with an equally awesome explanation:

Much of our experience in this life is defined by some degree of suffering. Because of this, sometimes to love someone well means simply sitting with them in their suffering, entering into that suffering with them without offering hollow aphorisms, minimizations, or easy fixes. And this is true in the big things as well as the seemingly small. Whether someone didn’t get the job they were hoping for or whether they just found out they have three months to live, our love is truly shown as we weep with those that weep.

Cue this sermon. This just in: I’m told that Dustin mentioned Mbird on a recent episode of The Reformed Pubcast. Swear we didn’t put him up to it. Very cool, though (much obliged!). And speaking of music-related podcasts, Mbird’s own Blake Collier and Carl Laamanen have started their own! It’s called Impossible to Say and you can catch up on the first two episodes here.

8. Television-wise, those who enjoyed Broadchurch would do well to check out Fortitude. Great international cast (including Michael Gambon and Stanley Tucci), it’s a murder mystery that takes place in the Arctic. After The AV Club gave the series a rave I tracked it down and was glad I did. But the main excitement of the week belongs to AMC’s Better Call Saul. The two-part premiere more than scratched the Breaking Bad itch I had just about forgotten was there. Odenkirk more than acquitted himself and the writing, as expected, was superb. I expect it’ll be a joy to watch this ship find its sail.

9. Humor: The Werner Herzog inspirational posters adorning this post cracked me up–thank you Tumblr. McSweeneys pulled off some unexpected theological humor with “One Member of This Trinity Is Not Pulling His Weight“. And The Onion got me laughing with “Area Woman Not Good Enough Artist To Justify Eccentricities”.