In addition to this week-in-review, this weekend I’m taking some time to prepare a “That Was The Year That Was” post. I’ll start counting down the year’s top twenty-five posts later today on Twitter, then share the full results in a year-in-review post on New Year’s Eve.
• This year, I tried to imagine seeing the first Christmas through Mary’s eyes.
• WWI’s famous Christmas Truce, 100 years old this week, shows that “history is impossible but necessary.”
• And a long-simmering post on Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken became a two-parter when I realized that Angelina Jolie’s movie version had a Christmas release. Part one: why biography is so challenging. Part two: what we mean when we talk about conversions like Louie Zamperini’s.
…There and Everywhere
• Christmas inspired all sorts of excellent writing this year. For example:
– I’m pretty sure Francis’ Christmas message was the best homily I’ve heard a pope preach: “…that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.”
(Less happy about what the pontiff had to say this week: the Vatican officials who “sat stony-faced throughout the stinging [pre-Christmas] address” delivered by Francis.)
– Gracy Olmstead considered the value of traditions like those we brush off every Christmas: “Tradition takes the sensory and the temporal, and makes them transcendent: through meaning, through history, through love. Tradition takes the material of our lives, and gives it eternal significance. It ties us to the fabric of the ages, so that someday, I can take my daughters to the Nutcracker, or teach them Grandma’s caramel recipe, and they will know her, at least a bit of her, though they never met her in this life.”
(It kind of runs counter to Olmstead’s point, but if you’re looking for new traditions, consider these ten from around the world.)
– And Krista Tippett doesn’t do Christmas, but she loves Incarnation: “There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude and our terrible, redemptive human need for each other. It’s not provable, but it’s profoundly humanizing and concretely and spiritually exacting. And it’s no less rational — no more crazy — than economic and political myths to which we routinely deliver over our fates in this culture, to our individual and collective detriment.”
(Incarnation was also a popular theme with a rabbi who sometimes wonders what would happen if a pastor friend had an emergency and needed a Christmas Eve substitute.)
• And if my own Christmas Truce post was a bit too grinchy for your taste, enjoy this lovely Anxious Bench piece by Bradley Strait. It’s remarkable that a college student could produce such a mature fusion of historical empathy and theological imagination…
• One guess which Christmas song has been most popular over the past thirty-five years, according to a Time magazine analysis of U.S. Copyright Office data.
• Meanwhile, Christmas (both the “economic… myth” Tippett complained about and the actual holy day) is huge in China…
• …though certain students — like some at a university in Xi’an, where Christianity first arrived in China in the 7th century — are fighting back against the holiday’s spread, characterizing it as Western cultural imperialism.
• Meanwhile, Spain is celebrating the holidays by making centuries-overdue amends to the Jews expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
• In my first Unbroken post, I mentioned that even secular critics think Jolie miscalculated when she stopped the story well before Zamperini’s conversion. Add The Atlantic‘s Lenika Cruz to that list: “I’m left wondering how much more powerful and true the story could have been had Unbroken focused as much on [forgiveness, as survival and resilience].”
• Also at The Atlantic, Katie Kilkenny mused about one more challenge common to (authorized) biographies: when biographers grow too close to their subjects.
• One last Unbroken tidbit: here’s the original report on the crash of Zamperini’s bomber in 1943. Famously, he and the pilot survived 47 days adrift in the Pacific, only to be captured by Japanese forces and imprisoned in torturous conditions until the end of WWII.
• Donte Stallworth will have a good life story to sell if his transition from pro football star to political reporter goes well…
• Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on how international adoptions are changing evangelicals like blogger Jen Hatmaker (and several of my colleagues at Bethel) to “[grapple] with race relations in a profoundly personal way, especially as national news spotlights racial tension in New York, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.”
• And congratulations to Bailey, probably my favorite religion writer, on her new gig with one of my favorite newspapers.
• Earlier this month she caught up with Rob Bell, his new show debuted on Oprah Winfrey’s cable network. “And, perhaps unsurprisingly,” reported Relevant magazine, “Bell sounded a lot like a pastor.”
• Here in the Twin Cities, StarTribune sports columnist Patrick Reusse caught up with former Bethel University football star (and Pietist Schoolman guest-blogger) Jesse Phenow, who is spending the year serving the Karen people in Southeast Asia.
• The end of December is a quiet time for higher ed, but this National Labor Relations Board ruling is big news for those of us who teach at private colleges — though more complicated if we’re at religious schools.
• And there’s mostly bad news for African American college graduates, whose unemployment rate is drastically higher than it is for their white counterparts.