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Of Cubs and Humans and Good Thieves

Of Cubs and Humans and Good Thieves

Wrigley Field is one of America’s sacred spaces. Even if one prefers a different team, no morally serious person dislikes the Cubs, and thousands of Americans every year take pilgrimages to The Friendly Confines. That’s partly why stealing a ball intended for a child at Wrigley produces such outrage. For...

Lance Armstrong's Moving Finish Line

Lance Armstrong’s Moving Finish Line

Where were you in 2012 when Lance Armstrong confessed his steroid sins to St. Oprah? Did you immediately take off your 2004 (!) Livestrong wristband and trash it, or did you simply let it fall behind the bedroom dresser? Was it the talk of your town, or did it just...

2018 Fall Conference in OKC (10/11-13): Registration Now Open!

2018 Fall Conference in OKC (10/11-13): Registration Now Open!

Super excited to announce that pre-registration for our Fall Conference in Oklahoma City in now open!

Join us October 11-13th at All Souls Episcopal Church in OKC as we explore what “Grace in an Age of Distraction” might look like. Speakers include Steven Paulson, Jady Koch, Carrie Willard, David Zahl, Kelsi...

The Difficulty of Drawing Near the Suffering

The Difficulty of Drawing Near the Suffering

This comes to us from Father Kenneth Tanner. 

When I first came to the parish I serve, there were about twenty persons over the age of seventy.

We have since buried a few, some have retired to Florida or warmer states, but until recently about half were still active participants in our...

'Never Stop Improving' and the Myth of Ontological Change

‘Never Stop Improving’ and the Myth of Ontological Change

There is a moving box sitting on the floor of our dining room. This box has been taunting me since the day we moved. Emblazoned on the side of the box is a simple corporate slogan that constantly cuts me to the core:

Never stop improving.

This is where we...

Announcing! The Déjà Vu Issue!

Announcing! The Déjà Vu Issue!

Dear readers, Issue 12 is officially out to print and will be in your hands in a matter of days!

Maybe you’ve wondered to yourself, “What is Mockingbird all about? And what should I read to get some insight?” If you have, or know your nosy roommate has, this is the primer...

That Time I Caved and Finally Read Harry Potter

That Time I Caved and Finally Read Harry Potter

On Monday, I experienced what millions of people were doing decades ago: I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire until 1:00AM. No way was I going to go to sleep on a cliffhanger! Earlier in the evening, my housemate got home just as I started to scratch the...

My Lifestyle Brand Isn't Pretty, But It's Amazing

My Lifestyle Brand Isn’t Pretty, But It’s Amazing

“Reality is an ally of God.” — Richard Rohr

When I was in dental school, I spent most afternoons with the rest of my class in the lab, where we’d toil over fake teeth for three hours. It was just as fun as it sounds, which led to filling the time with...

Latest entries

Gravity, Grace, Weight, Love

Gravity, Grace, Weight, Love

In one of her strange and gleaming essays in The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson describes grace this way:

‘Grace’ is a word without synonyms, a concept without paraphrase. It might seem to have distinct meanings, aesthetic and theological, but these are aspects of one thing—an alleviation, whether of guilt, of self-interest, or of limitation. I have chosen the word ‘alleviation’ with some care. It means the lifting or easing of a burdensome weight. I suppose the moon, when it raises the tide, can be said to alleviate the imponderably burdensome mass of the sea. This is an uncanny…

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Across the Great Divide – David Zahl

The final plenary from NYC in which we broach that topic and lose our sense of smell. Also, ABBA meets the King.

Across the Great Divide – David Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Catch Me

Catch Me

This one comes from Andrew Taylor-Troutman. 

A new friend, who is joining the church I serve, offered a Rumi reading to me from his morning devotional: Hold up a mirror to your worst destructive habits, for that is how the real making begins.

~

1995 was my first year of high school. That spring, my baseball coach announced to the entire P.E. class that I was “the dumbest smart guy” he knew. Everyone in class laughed. Coach meant that, while I made good grades, I lacked common sense. Head in the clouds, I tended to miss certain things.

One afternoon that year,…

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God's Two Words: An Introduction

God’s Two Words: An Introduction

Very pleased to share the following introduction to the new collection edited by our friend Dr. Jono Linebaugh, God’s Two Words—which hit shelves last week.

On October 4, 1529, Martin Luther wrote a letter to his wife. He was in Marburg at the urging of Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who had brought together several leading Lutheran and Reformed theologians in an attempt to secure the theological agreement necessary to establish a united evangelical front against the Hapsburgs. The participants in this Marburg Colloquy were able to produce a joint doctrinal statement, the “Marburg Articles,” and the list of signatories reads like…

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Buster

Buster

This reflection comes to us from Rob Jirucha.

“Things like that always happen to you,” a good friend once said. This following a set of stitches on my chin from a dumpster behind a grocery store. Long story.

But true enough.

Like the family trip to Newport, Rhode Island. Over the unnecessarily too-high, pee-my-pants bridge. To see 19th-century industrialists’ summer homes.

Wasn’t my thing to tour a home larger then my two-acre property. Though having just turned 16, looking cool was. And what better way than to cruise a boulevard of mansions. Blend in like the residents.

Top-Sider with no socks. A pink polo shirt with…

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Another Week Ends: More Declining Humanities, You Shall Know Them by Their Google-Searches, Some Simone Weil, Garrison Keillor Goes to Church, the New Male (?) Self-Improvement, and Social-Media Shaming

Another Week Ends: More Declining Humanities, You Shall Know Them by Their Google-Searches, Some Simone Weil, Garrison Keillor Goes to Church, the New Male (?) Self-Improvement, and Social-Media Shaming

1. First up, education. Ross Douthat at the NYT this week wrote a thoughtful appeal for the humanities, which are in serious decline. At the top thirty colleges (according to the formidable US News rankings), the proportion of humanities majors has fallen from about a third in the early 2000s to around a fifth today. In glossing this change, Douthat lays much of the blame at the door of “technocratic ambition.” For the technocrats, the goal of education is technical mastery, whereby one learns how to better control and make use of the world. Education is no longer about humanism–which we’ll…

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Charlottesville and Suffering: The Best Church Retreat I Ever Did

Charlottesville and Suffering: The Best Church Retreat I Ever Did

Last year, in late August, we began to hear that a storm was headed for our community. They were not sure what the extent of the flooding might look like, only that it was possible. My husband and I met during Hurricane Katrina, and I did relief work in the months that followed. I knew intimately the trauma that people faced who saw the storm first hand, especially children. So I packed up the kids and we left.

My husband would face Harvey and its aftermath alone for the next two weeks. He could not imagine leaving…

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80/20 Dirtbag

80/20 Dirtbag

Christians are impossible. Have you noticed? They’re needy, demanding, insecure, oblivious, judgmental, hypocritical, weird and generally exhausting.

And that’s just me.

But seriously, there was a time in my (more)self-righteous youth when I wondered what was wrong with people who went to church. Why were they like that? So uncool? So difficult to be around? I much preferred non-Christians. And then, somehow—and I can’t remember exactly how this came to pass—I realized that it’s not that Christians are a disaster, it’s that everyone is (myself included)—I just didn’t know them well enough (ditto). The truth is, the more and better you get…

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Lucid Absurdities: The Gospel and a Life of Meaning

Lucid Absurdities: The Gospel and a Life of Meaning

This one comes to us from the Rev. Aaron Boerst.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of the kind of inquisitive gaze that makes a person look like a confused puppy?

I have.

Everybody has at least one friend who, without warning and without frame of reference, bursts into a conversation with some ridiculous statement like a child wandering into the middle of a movie theater. A statement that makes the person saying it seem “out of his element,” you could say. A statement that on the surface—and in terms of the current flow of…

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The Undeserved Vacation: The New Sabbath

The Undeserved Vacation: The New Sabbath

‘Tis the season…

“I am on vacation, away from my office, Email access is remote so I may not respond until my return.”

We seem to need vacation.  My father had the month of August off, but we went near nowhere (once a drive to DC to see a friend along the way and see my Dad’s clients in Florida) But after that, if “Staycation” had been a word it was our mantra, save the last few years of my residence with them before high school when we visited the cabin my father bought (cheap) from said client.

Then it was training for…

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Announcing! The Déjà Vu Issue!

Dear readers, Issue 12 is officially out to print and will be in your hands in a matter of days!

Maybe you’ve wondered to yourself, “What is Mockingbird all about? And what should I read to get some insight?” If you have, or know your nosy roommate has, this is the primer to get you (or anyone) started. Even if you’re a vintage reader, this issue will sit with you like an old friend. After all, this is what déjà vu is all about: old stories/friends cropping up in new ways you never expected. Here is a collection of refurbished, rewritten posts, talks, and interviews from the dark caverns of the Mockinglibrary, an issue packed with sturdy theology, plenty of personality and, always, light hearts. In a word, it is classic.

So, to tide you over until your copy gets there, here’s the Opener from Ethan and a glimpse at the Table of Contents. Grab them fast! ORDER UP TODAY!

The Missing Word

In broaching the phenomenon that is déjà vu, there is one memory that’s bubbled up from the depths for a lot of Americans recently. The memory is of a smiling, lanky man, who sort of talk-sings off-key, who enters his house and changes out his coat and shoes for a sweater and sneakers.

It’s not that we don’t recognize the man or the place. It’s Mister Rogers, of course, and we’re in his house, which is in his Neighborhood. The déjà vu moment has been brought to us via the new documentary about the man, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And it’s not that we’ve forgotten having watched this program as children. It’s that when we re-watch these scenes in the documentary—scenes of such simplicity and warmth—we momentarily access a feeling that we can’t quite source. It is a feeling that seems to predate our first experience of the show, and even predates us entirely. We have known the feeling before but we don’t know where from.

The new Mister Rogers documentary was inspired by an Esquire feature written in 1998 by Tom Junod. Junod tells the story of meeting Fred for the first time, in Rogers’ small, dingy New York City apartment. Before he could get down to any of his own questions, Rogers had his own.

“What about you, Tom? Did you have any special friends growing up?”

“Yes, Mister Rogers.”

“Did your special friend have a name, Tom?”

“Yes, Mister Rogers. His name was Old Rabbit.”

“Old Rabbit. Oh, and I’ll bet the two of you were together since he was a very young rabbit. Would you like to tell me about Old Rabbit, Tom?”

To his own surprise, the award-winning journalist jumped into a long lost, favorite story about Old Rabbit. It wasn’t a new story, like the one he was working up for Esquire, but a very old one. He became a child again.

We named this The Déjà Vu Issue out of a similar conviction that the old stories are the ones to pay attention to. This is not to stake a claim on the importance of tradition so much as to say that, while the world is kept spinning by fresh headlines and hot takes, the deepest stories pretty much stay the same. The experience of déjà vu is really the new experience of an old truth, maybe one you forgot you ever knew.

Déjà vu is also the experience of life in repetition. Contrary to the way we prefer to imagine our lives—as linear progressions, moving upward and onward towards an ever-improving end—they instead take on a more circular trajectory. You don’t have to look far for examples: we find ourselves saying things we only ever heard our father say. A history of some great war we read mirrors almost exactly the newspaper’s description of the political climate this week. And that old macramé lampshade in the attic, the one you nearly got rid of, is now all the rage.

Still, if these were the only kinds of repetitions, then déjà vu would be a harbinger of despair, a reminder that nothing ever changes. But Christianity proclaims that these are not the only repetitions we experience in life. The Christian faith announces that something—someone—broke through these circular histories and offered something truly new. It proclaims that this something new is like a fountain that continues to spring up all the time—it is good news, hope for a change, and it continues to surface in unexpected ways. In our own lives, we may see it crop up out of nowhere, much like déjà vu: we’ve never seen it before, but then again, maybe we have.

Mockingbird is named after this phenomenon of repetition: a mockingbird repeats what it hears. We are a group of people who have, in some way or other, witnessed paranormal déjà vu. We have experienced it in our lives, we have seen it bubble up in places no one expected it to, and we have felt compelled to share that story with others. Whenever it shows up it may be a new story on its own, but it’s really just an extension of the very old story that gave us the good news to begin with.[1]

This issue makes use of old stories to go back to the Old Story. The essays collected herein were published earlier in Mockingbird’s tenure—as blogposts, in chapters of books, in talks at conferences—and have been polished and reworked here in hopes to tell it, all over again, for you. We share parenting lessons from the late child psychologist Dorothy Martyn and the final interview with Robert Farrar Capon. We talk law and gospel, cross and glory, Halloween candy and wedding dresses, girly boys and gorilla moms. We also have a handful of brand-new lists and three brand-new poems from Mary Karr. Some of it you may remember, but none of it will be the same—that’s the way déjà vu works.

Later in that Esquire piece, after Tom Junod has followed Mister Rogers around Penn Station, and joined him on his daily morning swim and seen his office in Pittsburgh, he gets a sense that there is something heroic about the man. Despite the zip cardigans and wide-eyed wonder, maybe Mister Rogers himself is an agent of some kind of power, a reminder of an Old Story he never fully got to hear. He calls this Old Story “grace.”

What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella. I had never prayed like that before, ever. I had always been a great prayer, a powerful one, but only fitfully, only out of guilt, only when fear and desperation drove me to it… and now this was it, the missing word, the unuttered promise, the prayer I’d been waiting to say a very long time.

This missing word is what we hope you find here too.

[1] When we were initially planning this issue, we had thought of it as a Greatest Hits Issue. Besides the inherent judginess of such a theme, there was something else about it that didn’t seem to ring true. It was only after pulling these essays together that we realized why: it wasn’t just about which essays were our favorites, or garnered the most attention, it was also which stories have portrayed this Old Story so powerfully.

PRE-ORDER THE DEJA VU ISSUE HERE

Death, Critique, Heaven, and Hell

Death, Critique, Heaven, and Hell

Last spring, I finished my undergrad, where I drug myself through a severely disoriented and disorienting thesis. Among the many lessons I learned in the process, I discovered something that deeply hindered my academic writing: I hated it. This revelation surprised me because I entered that research project believing I liked it and did it well. Now, I could barely sustain either of those beliefs.

Among the many qualities of scholarly writing I now found deplorable: it was infinite, and its vastness offered no longer to enchant but to consume me whole. Every book or article contained a bibliography…

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