Tag Archives: david brooks

Linsanity! Part 4: An Essay on Why David Brooks Is Wrong on Jeremy Lin

David Brooks just suggested in the New York Times that athletic success and humility necessarily conflict and cannot coexist in a person.  He wrote his piece, “The Jeremy Lin Problem,” on New York Knicks star (I love writing that) Jeremy Lin, who led the Knicks to their eighth win in nine games yesterday against NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

Here’s what Brooks said about the conflict between “greatness” and “humility”:

Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.

For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That’s why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.) You achieve your identity through self-effacement. You achieve strength by acknowledging your weaknesses. You lead most boldly when you consider yourself an instrument of a larger cause.

And here is his closing word:

The odds are that Lin will never figure it out because the two moral universes are not reconcilable. Our best teacher on these matters is Joseph Soloveitchik, the great Jewish theologian. In his essays “The Lonely Man of Faith” and “Majesty and Humility” he argues that people have two natures. First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.

Read the whole piece.  It’s very thought-provoking.

My buddy Barnabas Piper responded to Brooks last week.  He said this: “Brooks smelled something that stinks. He is on to something because the tension does exist, but his conclusions miss the mark. I believe there is tension present in the world of Christian athletes. But it is not a tension unique to that situation. It is simply an expression of the tension that exists in all our hearts all the time – that of seeking to glorify myself rather than glorify God.”  I think Barnabas is right.

If Brooks is correct, then humility essentially swallows ambition.  There cannot ultimately be a place for what Alister Chapman has called “godly ambition” in his recent biography of John Stott (a work I commend).  Stott believed that he best glorified the Lord by putting his gifts to work, not by stifling them in fear.  Dave Harvey offered some similar thoughts in Rescuing Ambition.

Brooks is of course operating not from an evangelical worldview (though he is friendly to evangelicals, including Stott) but from a Jewish one.  In the New Testament, Christ teaches the parable of the talents, in which he makes explicit that it is good to dream big and act boldly for kingdom purposes.  In the story, a master rewards servants who “make” more talents by dint of effort and ambition.  They hear “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).  There is another servant who fearfully buries his talent in order to preserve it.  He reaps condemnation to himself:

“You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:26-30).

Clearly this parable is about more than just ambition; like so much of Christ’s teaching, it starts with a fairly mundane matter–how one works–and ends up setting the issues of faithfulness and diligence in a frightening eschatological context.  Nonetheless, it seems clear that what one could call “godly ambition” is commended here.

As Barnabas pointed out (and Chapman notes), there is gray area in this discussion.  We are sinful people, and even when we seek to please God, we can have some kind of mixed motive.  I think we’re wrong to see ourselves in strict black-and-white.  But this must not restrain us from working hard to promote the kingdom.

There were two moments in yesterday’s game against the Mavericks that I thought spoke pretty nicely to this discussion.  At one point, Lin was on a fast break with no defenders to stop him from scoring; his teammate Landry Fields was on his wing.  Many of the NBA’s leading lights would have taken the opportunity to show off, dunking the ball in spectacular fashion.  I’m personally not going to say that’s wrong, though it’s not selfless, either.  What did Lin do?  He gave up an opportunity to make himself look good and passed the ball to Fields, who slammed it home.  He made Fields, his weird-handshake buddy (read more), look good.  In that instant, in my view, he showed Christian virtue, the humility Brooks suggested could not exist meaningfully in such a star.

Another play spoke to a different strength.  The clock was winding down at the end of the first quarter.  Lin realized as he must that he was the best playmaker on the floor.  He attacked just before the buzzer sounded and hit a floater in the lane over Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ best player.  In that moment, he showed confidence in his own abilities, but this was a confidence that served his teammates.  Yes, it’s possible that there was pride in the decision to attack the basket, but I would see that play more as a way that Lin, clearly an unselfish point guard, served his teammates by using the skill given him by God.

This applies to all of life.  We should practice humility and “esteem others better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3).  We should also take pains to identify the abilities God has given us and use them with great effort in service of the kingdom of Christ.  Until Christ returns, yes, we will feel some tension at times over whether we’re putting ourselves forward, whether we’re acting in a given moment out of godly ambition or what James calls “selfish ambition” (James 3:16).  It is right as sinful yet redeemed people that we feel this inner conflict.  We must not make the mistake of thinking that our conversion naturally ennobles our every motive, every action, every word.

But in our sphere of productivity assigned us by God, we should work with alacrity and without slavish fear or worry for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  That’s true of the woman who wants to be the best mother and homemaker she can, the stockbroker who wants to make a great deal of money to bless his family and church, the church planter who believes that he is called of God to preach the gospel in a place that frankly doesn’t want it, the family that runs the best homeless shelter they can to care for the needy, and the athlete who plays, ultimately, for an audience of one.

 

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Is President Obama the First Female President?

Don’t ask me.  Ask Kathleen Parker.  She just suggested so–in the Post, no less.  However you answer this question, it seems incontrovertible that men have adapted womanly traits and habits in just about every category–dress, speaking, physicality, you name it.  You have to hand it to Parker–she speaks her mind, with no quarter given to anyone.  I admire that.

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Stephen Witmer, a Massachusetts pastor with a PhD from Cambridge, writes on a “God-Centered Understanding of Sin” at Ref21.  An excellent piece worth the extensive reading.

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Kevin DeYoung “witticisms,” including the immortal term “squishitude.”  That is a neologism worth passing on.

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Old media?  New media?  David Brooks and Gail Collins discuss.

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How has John Roberts changed the culture of the Supreme Court?  Here’s how.

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James Boice, remembered. (HT: Challies)

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By the way, I don’t know if you get Christianity Today, but the new issue has a noteworthy piece by Russ Moore on adoption (not yet online).  Here’s one memorable line: “The adoption movement is challenging the impoverished hegemony of our carnal sameness, as more and more families in the church are starting to show fellow believers the meaning of unity in diversity.”  That’s a heavy-hitter.

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Are Suburbs Becoming the New Cities?

There’s been much discussion in the blogging world of late about whether to target cities or not in church planting efforts.  In light of that conversation, consider David Brooks’s most recent NYT piece.  He argues based on some studies that suburbs will blossom in coming years:

Over the next 40 years, Kotkin argues, urban downtowns will continue their modest (and perpetually overhyped) revival, but the real action will be out in the compact, self-sufficient suburban villages. Many of these places will be in the sunbelt — the drive to move there remains strong — but Kotkin also points to surging low-cost hubs on the Plains, like Fargo, Dubuque, Iowa City, Sioux Falls, and Boise.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know this.  Seems to lend credence to the words of those who emphasize ministry all over the place in Christ’s name.

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With her characteristic eloquence, Maureen Dowd weighs in on the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.  The anecdotes she provides turn the stomach, to say the least.  Sin is everywhere–in our house and outside it–but this scandal boggles the mind, given the widespread suffering of helpless children.

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While we’re on the NYT, commentary on the increasing presence of androgynous female athletes:

“Brittney Griner is such an athlete, and so gifted, you almost don’t notice that she is part of a slowly unfolding, civilized response in this country to the slightly androgynous female,” said Terry Castle, the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University and a passionate fan of women’s basketball. “She calls our attention to the unnecessary rigidity of sex roles and makes a number of feminist points along the way.”

Brittney Griner, incidentally, is the same female college basketball player who recently punched one of her opponents.  If you track with a biblical worldview that emphasizes the necessary and God-glorifying distinctiveness of the genders on many points, you may find this cultural development problematic, and worthy of attention. This is not to say that women playing any sport is harmful, but that some sports may exercise an androgynizing effect on women.

If you’re inclined to argue with this idea, do you think that the genders are distinctive?  Are there any innate differences between men and women that, though not spelled out in full in Scripture, are worth preserving?  Or is it all just a wash?

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Phoenix Christian rap group isix5 has made a few of their albums available for free download.  Check that out if you need some summer jams…

(Image of Dubuque: QuiltingPathways)

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Sandra Bullock’s Dilemma, John Piper’s Decision, and Parenthood’s Complexity

David Brooks poses an interesting question in his column today:

Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?

He concludes his editorial with this–it’s worth chewing on:

[M]ost of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.

Adultery and the dissolution of a marriage is always a complicated matter, and I of course don’t know the particulars of this sad situation.  I can say, though, that Brooks’s words make one think, especially as so many of us are thoroughly enmeshed in modernity, with its hyper-speed, adoration of status and money, and distaste for traditional–seemingly enduring–things.

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Collin Hansen reflects on John Piper’s recent announcement to his church that he will be taking some time off to focus on his marriage and soul. Hansen’s historical work in the piece deserves careful pondering.

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As you may have seen elsewhere, the Christian Science Monitor just did a story on surging Calvinism that prominently features Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  I recognized a number of people in the pictures–pretty cool.  With thanks to Stuart Taylor, one of my mentors in the faith, for the link.

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Some of you may be watching the engrossing tv show Parenthood on NBC.  It follows the various branches of an extended family as they confront the challenges both traditional and modern that so many families today wrestle with.  I thought this piece on the show was worthy of attention.  The author, Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune, calls for one of the show’s characters, Julia Braverman-Graham, to continue to honestly reflect the realities of working motherhood.

In particular, this section of the essay struck me as noteworthy:

So do me a favor. Don’t blow this. Don’t be picture-perfect “Cosby Show” Clair Huxtable working mom. Don’t be “Desperate Housewives'” Lynette Scavo mess of a working mom. The archetypes don’t leave a lot of room for being insanely enamored of your kids.

Just be a working mom who desperately tries to please her boss, compete with the stay-at-home moms for face-time, find more time for her daughter and still squeeze in wife/sister/daughter/homeowner duties.

I know. It sounds impossible. But here’s a tip: Have more tender moments with Sydney. Cut out paper dolls. Do each other’s nails. Make pancakes and play Candyland and Uno and tell her stories about your childhood.

Read the whole thing.

I discussed this article with my wife, a homemaker who identified the excellent point I now seek to develop.  Many modern women today, intimidated by archetypal June Cleaver and Betty Huxtable figures, scoff at these figures, viewing their lives as impossible to achieve.  While few stay-at-home moms would claim that their lives are complex, it seems unrealistic to suggest that traditional womanhood makes life harder than modern womanhood.

Why?  Because the Tribune piece, as is common to more contemporary feminism, seems to suggest that women can do it all.  They can be a lawyer working 90-hour weeks, “have more tender moments” with their kids, and ” still squeeze in wife/sister/daughter/homeowner duties.”  Let me just say that a woman in action boggles the mind.  I grew up under a very gifted woman and I live with one now.

However, I have to call bluff here.  How on earth can even the most omni-competent mother simultaneously complete all her responsibilities at a very demanding job, increase her special time with her children, and function in all her other roles–wife, family member, child?  That’s unrealistic.  It’s unfair.  It’s exhausting, damaging, and dangerous, whether for the woman herself, her kids, or her marriage.

Maureen Dowd, a feminist’s feminist, noted some time ago that “blue is the new black.” In public, and to her credit, she noted that modern women are unhappy, and that this unhappiness is tied to a feminist way of life.  She would not agree with much of what I stand for, I’m sure, but her candor suggests what I’m getting at here: the Julia Braverman-Graham model is untenable.  It won’t hold.

Or, if it does hold, it will come at great cost.  There is no substitute for quantity with children.  If you want to love them and see them flourish, you simply must spend lots of time with them–not time on your cell while they play, not time on the computer while they try to get your attention–but real, thick, loving, focused time.  Moms have an essential role to play on this point, even as dads do as well when their daily out-of-the-home work ceases.

Heidi Stevens is a gifted writer, and I’m guessing she’s a very sweet mother, but her model is deeply flawed.  Just as men don’t need to run themselves into the ground for the sake of career, women don’t need to run themselves into the ground for the sake of some vaunted but impossible ideal of womanhood.  Nobody said June Cleaver’s life was easy.  There’s no way, however, that an honest viewer could say that Julia Braverman-Graham’s life is any easier. The exhaustion, frustration and guilt she feels stems in substantial part not from the reactions of others, but from the model she follows.

(Image: Babble.com)

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Omega Males, David Brooks, and the Importance of Glamour

Slate recently ran a story about men they called “Omega males.” Definitely not Alpha, not quite Beta.  Essentially, this class of men is drifting through their post-college and thirtysomething years, not making much of themselves, struggling to find love, and making little dent on the world. This kind of guy seems to have proliferated in the current day, and that is a problem, even for mainstream cultural commentators.

Here’s a snatch from the piece:

In the social hierarchy of a wolf pack in captivity, the omega ranks below the alpha and beta wolves. In human terms, if an executive or a warrior is an alpha male and a nice-guy middle manager like The Office‘s Jim Halpert is a beta male, then Greenberg and his brethren are omega males. While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up. Greenberg says of his somewhat stunted best friend, “We call each other ‘man,’ but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people.” The omega male is not experiencing the tired trope of the midlife crisis. A midlife crisis implies agency, a man who has the job and the family and chooses to reject it. The omega male doesn’t have the power to reject anything—he’s the one who has been brushed off.

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David Brooks weighs in on the recent legislation on health-care:

[W]atching all this, I feel again why I’m no longer spiritually attached to the Democratic Party. The essence of America is energy — the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans who built the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts.

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Have you heard of the MacDowell Colony?  It’s some kind of ridiculously cool artist’s retreat paradise.  Writers, musicians, artists and other creative types stay for a spell and pump out masterpieces.  In the words of Tina Fey: “I want to go to there.”

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We need to think about glamour. Here’s why.

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A deeply inspiring worship song.  We need more Revelation-inspired worship songs.  The language cannot be beat.

(Image from Greenberg)

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Christian Hipster Cities, Oxford Scholarships, and Clint Eastwood Movies

I came across a fun and informal piece recently on the “Top Ten Cities for Christian Hipsters”.  A fun read.  The author’s not trying to be scientific.  Number one city?  Chicago.  Figures.

It’s interesting to play this off of a recent post by an Acts29 pastor featured on the blog of Justin Taylor that wondered out loud why more young guys aren’t targeting broken cities and aging demographics.  There’s something to be said for that.  I like the whole “cities drive culture and are very important thing”; I may end up ministering in a city–who knows?  But everyone needs the gospel, right?  Desperately, right?  Detroit needs the gospel; Cleveland needs the gospel; all of the Rust Belt does.  Everyone everywhere does (with unreached peoples taking priority, hopefully).

Bill Streger’s blog is worth quoting and chewing on:

It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

It can’t completely surprise many of us hard-driving, culture-engaging church guys that we, want to reach, well, upwardly mobile culture-makers, can it?  This doesn’t mean we discontinue or sneer at the new evangelical urbanism; far from it.  It does mean, though, that we think critically about it, in my opinion.

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Oxford University is offering a sweet three-year PhD fellowship in theology.  Check that baby out, ambitious young would-be Christian scholars.  Thanks to the Oxford don (and sage blogger and Jonathan Edwards buff) Michael McLenahan for the link.

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The New Yorker takes a look at the films of Clint Eastwood.  I found Gran Torino quite moving.  My wife did too, though she thought Dirty Harry’s cinematic vision was a little dark.  It is.

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Do you want to live in Tokyo?  Do you have $750,000?  I have just the place for you.

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Must-read piece by Nicholas Kristof on how an eight-year-old Yemeni girl was forced into marriage.  There are some foundational differences between societies possessing, in some form or manner, Christian roots, and those possessing Islamic roots.  While we’re on must-read NYT columns, David Brooks has a marvelous column up about the remarkable spirit of Norwegians.  If that is not a tantalizing hook, just trust me and read it.

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Shocking News: Men Are in Trouble

Add these to your already extensive “Men Are in Trouble” files.  My thanks to Mark Rogers for the first two.  First, “Lean Years” from David Brooks of the NYT:

Over the past few decades, men have lagged behind women in acquiring education and skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at age 22, 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men who have done so. Furthermore, men are concentrated in industries where employment is declining (manufacturing) or highly cyclical (construction).

So men have taken an especially heavy blow during this crisis. The gap between the male and female unemployment rates has reached its highest level since the government began keeping such records.

And here’s an exchange between Brooks and Gail Collins of the NYT that raises some interesting questions.

Finally, here’s the article that sparked a major thrust of this conversation: “More Men Marrying Wealthier Women” by Sam Roberts.

It’s interesting to see the online conversation about this matter.  Some folks are straining with impressive effort to avoid the conclusion that, um, perhaps something needs to be done about the “man problem”.  Meanwhile, every week a new story comes out that reminds us yet again that Western men are struggling mightily to steady themselves in a modern world.  Take one look at articles those noted above, raunch culture films and tv, and the sports-obsessed boy-men all around us, and it is strenuously difficult to conclude that we do not have a problem–a major one–on our hands.

Evangelicals can’t necessarily fix the culture.  But we can address our own struggles in the power of Christ and seek to be a salve, a dash of salt and a ray of light, to the confused, broken, lost world in which we live.

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HBU’s The City, David Brooks, and the Urban Woodsman

The City has just published its latest issue in ZMags.  If you have never used this web program, check out the site.  It’ll take you a minute, but it’s pretty cool.

Also, if you are a thinking Christian, sign up to receive The City for free from Houston Baptist University.  I read every page in the latest issue, and found a ton of food for thought.

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David Brooks just published a piece worth reading on the value of sports in society.  Brooks is pretty positive, on the whole.  I would have quibbles with some of his points.  I want to read the essay he riffs off of, a piece by Duke University professor Michael Gillespie called “Debating Moral Education” from an upcoming title of the same name.

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Are you an urban woodsman?  New York magazine documents a new trend.  (Be careful on that site.  There’s some hinky stuff.)

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Recently, doctors in Belgium found a trace of life in a vegetative patient who had lain comatose for five years.  Some serious implications for those who advocate the rush to extinguish life in such situations, eh?

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Carl Trueman, resident critic of evangelicalism, weighs in on the evangelical embrace of tenets and aspects of Catholicism.

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Low Impact Man: A Funny Take on the Unsustainability of the “Sustainable” Life

Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard has a very funny piece up called “The Adventures of Low Impact Man”.  Some of you have heard of Colin Beavan and his efforts to live what he calls a “low impact”, non-wasteful life.  Labash takes him up on his challenge and writes an often hilarious and quite lengthy diary of his experience with the eco-friendly lifestyle (I’m on a kick here–what can one say?).

While it is certainly a good thing to seek to live wisely and to eliminate unnecessary waste from one’s life (I attempt to do this), the piece will make you wonder if Beavan’s lifestyle is truly attainable for the average Joe.  If you like Carl Trueman’s biting irony, and you enjoy cultural criticism, evangelical reader, you will love you some Matt Labash.

Here’s a snippet:

Giving up my car, my eco-sensei says, would help me “think fewer emissions and more fun, free time, and money.” But biking 70 miles round trip would take all day. There’d be no point in going, it would be no fun, and even if it gave me more free time with my kids–which it wouldn’t–I’d be too tired to play with them. So my best option is to bike to the Park’n’Ride lot and catch a semi-environmentally friendly commuter bus.

This turns out to be a difficult trick. The last bus leaves for D.C. at 7:20 A.M., a time at which I’m either usually still sleeping or just thinking about getting up. Consequently, I wake up at 5 A.M., to shove off by 5:30. Outside, there isn’t even a hint of sunrise, and it is a moonless night. I’m riding in pitch darkness, except for the headlights of cars whizzing by on a busy four-lane highway with erratic shoulders. The trek is seven miles of taxing hills. (I wear a heart monitor when I bike. On regular rides over flat terrain, I’m in the 120-135 beats per minute range. On this one, with a messenger bag on my back, I stay up around 160 most of the ride.)

It’s so dark I can’t see my gears and accidentally upshift on steep climbs. My mountain-bike chain pops off twice. (Since I hadn’t greased it in a while, I can fit it back on with minimal mess, though I still look like I’ve been fingerprinted.) I ride warily in the darkness, keeping my eyes trained on the faint glint of the guardrail, and the white highway line of the shoulder. But at one point, my bike hits something squishy and nearly kicks out from under me. I stop and wait for passing cars to illuminate what I hit. It’s a dead possum. At least I think it was dead. It might have just been playing possum, in which case, playtime is now certainly over.

This is hilarious stuff.  Read it all at TWS.  Also, note that Labash has a book coming out in February, and he’s written numerous noteworthy pieces before (here’s one, and here’s one more, and here’s a final freebie).  David Brooks has called him “one of the best magazine writers in the country”, and he seems to be, in my limited judgment.

(Image: Mediabistro)

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