• “Presidents'” Day links, including one to a post by religious historian Thomas S. Kidd on the faith of Washington and Lincoln and whether a president’s personal religious beliefs are significant. (For another perspective on that question, in light of recent comments about Barack Obama by Rick Santorum, see Roger Olson’s piece on the theology of creation.)
• More politics: my attempt to defend John Fea, Christian liberal arts, and the Republic itself against Glenn Beck fans. I think my essay was more grandiose and less gracious than John’s, but I did manage to work in a Bruce Springsteen allusion. (Another blogger rising to John’s defense: Paul Harvey of Religion in American History.)
• Still more politics: the premiere of the 2012 season of The Policast, a political affairs podcast in which I spend half an hour throwing semi-informed questions about the presidential election at my political scientist colleague Chris Moore.
• No more politics, but some more Roger Olson: on the possible relationship between Pietism and “Renewalism.”
• What a visit from my mother-in-law, a semi-frustrating morning of archival research, the Desert Fathers, and Phoebe Palmer have to do with each other.
• Jamie Smith wrote an “open letter to praise bands.” Fortunately, our own contemporary worship team at Salem largely escapes the problems he’s identifying, but having been part of such a team and worshiped at other churches with different approaches to leading worship, I know that there’s substantial truth in his concern “that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, ‘secular liturgies’ and not just neutral ‘methods.’ Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these ‘secular liturgies’ is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.” (See his follow-up to that initial letter, posted Friday.)
• Last Jeremy Lin link for at least a week — promise! This one has John Schmalzbauer comparing Lin’s association with InterVarsity to James Naismith’s ties to the YMCA.
• Missed this one last week: a Catholic university is pioneering the theological equivalent of speed-dating: “speed-faithing.”
• Tom Scheinfeldt argued persuasively that digital technology increasingly means that “Librarians must learn to accept invisibility” while “Scholars must come to understand the centrality of library expertise and accept librarians as equal partners….”
• Heather Cox Richardson explained that Monopoly (the board game) has a lot to do with monopoly (the economic practice common to late 19th century America). Leading her to this comment that helped me understand my own childhood much, much better:
As anyone who has endured a rainy afternoon as a child knows, playing Monopoly was also a brutal lesson in the harshest form of capitalism. Invariably, one player emerged early as the canniest trader, or was lucky enough to capture Boardwalk and Park Place. S/he would slowly bleed the rest of the players dry over the long, painful course of hours. The only real option for a losing player was to rob the bank (something that, sadly, I didn’t figure out until I watched my children play the game). As someone said to me today, a young loser did not figure out the game was rigged, but rather assumed s/he was just bad at the game.
And throughout my childhood, that “canniest trader” was my brother Jon, except that it rarely took him hours to bleed me dry — since (a) I usually just gave up and (b) he cheated! (That’s right, Jon — I know you had your hand in the till…)
• Maybe I’ve been warped by studying and teaching the Cold War, but it seems vaguely sinister that some Russian scientists have figured out how to regenerate a flower species extinct for 30,000 years. Though much less so than this potential next step for that research project: “‘If we are lucky, we can find some frozen squirrel tissue,’ [researcher Stanislav] Gubin told the AP. ‘And this path could lead us all the way to mammoth.'”
• And finally… My favorite TV show of all time, The Simpsons, recently marked its 500th (500th!) [500th!!!!] episode. I came *this* close to going back through my collection of DVDs (only through season 9, if you please) for the umpteenth time in order to produce the perfect top ten list of greatest episodes or scenes. But fortunately, the writers at Grantland saved me the trouble and selected their own Simpsons Hall of Fame — restricting themselves to clips available on YouTube.
My favorite of the bunch features Kelsey Grammer, in a clip from his greatest performance as Sideshow Bob. I don’t even like physical comedy, but Grantland writer Dan Fierman explains why it works:
There is a time-honored rule in comedy: Three times is funny. More than three times is not funny. But if you keep doing the gag — you know seven, eight, nine times — well, it magically becomes funny again.
There is no single better example of this phenomenon in human history than the Sideshow Bob rake gag. Tremble in awe of comedy genius, straight from the heart of the golden era of the greatest show in television history.