Thoughts from just south of Dunder Mifflin

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I watched the series finale of “The Office” (US) last night (yes, after watching the entire series). And I have to admit that I got a little sentimental at all the Jim/Pam stuff of the last few episodes. I very much appreciated that, during the course of their marriage, the writers gave them some real problems and that Pam even says in the final episode that, while the documentary-viewers may have seen a “fairy tale” romance, it didn’t feel like a fairy tale much of the time.

One thing I liked (can’t remember which season it was) was that when Jim was presented with an easy opportunity to be unfaithful to his wife, he steadily and strongly resisted it. The writers didn’t just decide to mess with their marriage in that way just to watch everything blow up.

I also liked that there were real impasse-type problems between them in the last season, stuff that was based on whether personal fulfillment would compete with what it took to take care of the family, and that the choice was actually made not to “follow the dream” while leaving the family behind.

Indeed, “follow your dream no matter what” actually doesn’t come out too well as a theme in the series in general. I liked that, too, because that philosophy can be spiritually deadly. There was also a wonderful theme of reconciliation with and even kindness to enemies. Jim and Dwight eventually become actual friends, because both see in each other their own humanity.

And there are even real consequences for those who give in to addictions or foolish whims, whatever they might be. Andy doesn’t get to keep Erin. The Senator doesn’t end up with Oscar or get to keep Angela. Even when people overindulge in eating or drinking, it always turns out badly. And hard work and loyalty eventually do result in reward.

Although the telos of Jim and Pam’s relationship seems to be mainly “You are my everything,” etc., this may be the first time I’ve seen something approaching a somewhat realistic and positive view of marriage on television.

Yes, there’s some crude humor throughout the series, and that’s a drawback, but overall, I think the reason why that show went for nine years is that in many moments it spoke to a humanity that doesn’t fit into the stereotypes that TV usually presents, nor even to the consumerist mold that is normally promoted in that medium.

Good show.

Orthodoxy at the Emmys

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Not that I watch awards shows more than perhaps once every five years or so (and I didn’t see this one, either), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the first time that Orthodox Christian monastic enclave Mount Athos was mentioned in an Emmy speech. This is Jonathan Jackson winning his fifth Emmy.

Readers may recall my interview with Mr. Jackson shortly before he and his family were baptized into the Orthodox Church earlier this year.

I know that some may greet this sort of thing with skepticism, especially since fame is not exactly conducive to salvation. The value of these kinds of moments, though, is that Orthodoxy is making its way into the public square.

Of course, this can be done badly, and fame can be a temptation in at least two ways: The first is the more obvious, and that is that fame can destroy humility. I’m not sure that many Orthodox people would therefore argue that acting, politics, sports, writing, broadcasting and almost anything which puts one’s work into the general stream of the culture should all be professions avoided by Orthodox Christians. (Some would, I’m sure.) I talked about the intersection of Hollywood acting with genuine faith and its problems for humility with Mr. Jackson in my interview with him. That, for me, was one of the more fascinating parts of the talk.

The second temptation that fame gives for the Orthodox Christian is like unto the first, but moves in a different vector, and that is to cheapen the faith by turning it into a selling point or an exotic accessory for the media personality. That can be done, and I think it’s probably happening in countries where most people are at least nominally Orthodox Christians. (Think, for instance, about the accusations Russian politicians get when they are visibly photographed in church.) But there is also a way publicly to witness to the Orthodox faith without cheapening it, even if that witness is sometimes only a hint. You may not agree, but I think the above video is a good example of this more genuine approach.

I honestly wonder (and I don’t say this in some sort of romantic way) how many folks watched Mr. Jackson’s speech and asked themselves who the monks of Mount Athos are and what it means that they pray for the salvation of the world. And perhaps a handful of them googled them, and perhaps a smaller handful started to read about their faith.

It’s possible.

Update: As I imagined could happen, this post got a spike in hits over the past few days, mainly from people searching for some combination of “Jonathan Jackson” and “Orthodox” or “religion.” It seems he got a few people wondering.