1. A nice change of pace this week, with not one but two stories of grace to get the tear ducts working. First, via The NY Times Magazine, lawyer and writer Bryan Stephenson recalls for “The Man on Death Row Who Changed Me”. During law school, Stephenson was asked to visit an inmate on death row, to inform the prisoner that a ‘real’ lawyer had yet to be assigned his case. Bryan arrives feeling unprepared and nervous about delivering what he assumes to be bad news. To say that the condemned man’s response takes him aback would be an understatement:
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“Born into a land of brutality and evil…it came from terror and fear! The curse…laid on a baby!” A brief list you’ll find in Issue 3 of The Mockingbird, right in time for Halloween! The Gospel According to…Hammer Horror! Nearly all are available to watch in full on YouTube. Ah Ah Ah Ahhh! “Don’t look into the eyes!”
This one comes from Melanchthon’s Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 164A, 172B, ht SMZ:
“[I]f we had to believe that after our renewal we must become acceptable not by faith on account of Christ but on account of our keeping of the law, our conscience would never find rest. Instead, it would be driven to despair. For the law always accuses since we never satisfy the law… For who loves or fears God enough? Who endures patiently the afflictions imposed by God? Who does not often doubt whether human affairs are ruled by the counsel of God? Who does not often doubt whether one is heard by God? Who is not often angry that the wicked enjoy a better lot than the pious and that the godly are oppressed by the wicked? Who is not often enraged by the judgment of God when he seems to abandon us? How many live up to their calling? How many love their neighbor as themselves? Who is not incited by concupiscence? About these sins the psalms says [Ps. 32:6], ‘Therefore let all who are the saints offer prayer to you.’ Here he says that the saints pray for the forgiveness of sins.’ … Only faith brings [peace to consciences] – faith which is confident that on account of Christ the high priest we have a gracious God… Faith justifies in this way: that it simultaneously makes alive, that is, it cheers and consoles consciences and produces eternal life and joy in the heart.”
Here’s a timely one from Nick Lannon, which was originally posted over at Liberate on this day last year:
Halloween has become more Christian than Christmas.
Christians have long had issues with Halloween. We’re not sure what to make of it, we’re not sure if it’s ok to celebrate it, if we’re celebrating demons, monsters, and evil things. Michael Jackson, at the beginning of the landmark video for “Thriller,” felt compelled to provide a disclaimer that this video, in which he turns into a werewolf and a zombie, did not endorse the occult. For the same reasons that many Christians have…
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In honor of Reformation Day, another quote from the Great Reformer’s “A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels” (1521):
“When you open the book containing the Gospels and read or hear how Christ comes here or there, or how someone is brought to him, you should therein perceive the sermon or the Gospel through which he is coming to you, or you are being brought to him. When you see how he works, however, and how he helps everyone to whom he comes or who is brought to him, then rest assured that faith is accomplishing this in you and that he is offering your soul exactly the same sort of help and favor through the gospel. If you pause here and let him do you good, that is, if you believe he benefits and helps you, then you really have it. Then Christ is yours, presented to you as a gift.”
This weekend we had one of those celebratory moments in our lives where virtually everyone we loved most in the world was able to attend. Our daughter was baptized on Sunday and that meant people from Mississippi to Wisconsin figured out a way to get to our house for the big event. And for the first time since my husband and I said our vows of holy matrimony, both sets of our parents were in the same room at the same time.
I worried for weeks about how this would go. I wondered what we would serve for dinner (Frito Pie)…
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From the Mockingbird poet’s newest collection of poems, Still Working It Out, a selection of which is featured in the Third Issue of our magazine, this one was previously published in The Paris Review.
It frightens me to think, she said, interrupting
my holiday banter. Imagining the phrase
as antecedent to a rare gift of honest exchange
between grownup siblings, I dashed
into the split-second of dead air, anticipating silently
her elaboration–what a mess we’ve made of things
for our kids; how many parents of starving
children must hate us for our amazing prosperity
But I had misread
her punctuation, took the period as a pause, and all
at once found myself, like that coyote
we used to pull for on Saturday mornings, utterly
without purchase, eyeballing an abyss.
Which is when, glancing back across the divide
of the double sink at her busy hands, I saw her
as though she were curled in a ball on the lip
of a cliff, knees tight to her chest, face buried
in the cotton folds of a holly-green dress.
It’s okay, I wanted to tell her. It scares me, too.
But I was already plummeting, tumbling in free-fall
to a sunbaked canyon floor, the crazy cur
in her endless cartoon of an unreliable universe
We’ve posted at length on Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), a book which brilliantly details the far-reaching consequences of self-justification and cuts toward the heart of the human condition.
Perpetrators are motivated to reduce their moral culpability; victims are motivated to maximize their moral blamelessness. Depending on which side of the wall we are on, we systematically distort our memories and account of the event to produce the maximum consonance between what happened and how we see ourselves… The relatively small number of people who cannot or will not reduce dissonance this way pay a large psychological price in guilt, anguish, anxiety, nightmares, and sleepless nights. The pain of living with horrors they have committed, but cannot morally accept, would be searing, which is why most people will reach for any justification available to assuage the dissonance.
The unendurability of such a price generally leads people to rationalize one way or another to conform events to a pre-existing picture we have of ourselves. Such dissonance can be eased by delusion, “moral acceptance” – basically, anything goes – but the Christian message enters into that dissonance, formulates it. “I do not do what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate”; “simul iustus et peccator, saint and sinner at once”. Christians are so often described as self-righteous not least because our religion’s self-helpy, aspirational form may encourage us to distort things still-more to maximize consonance between “what happened” and our newly-inflated picture of ourselves, between the ideal of linear sanctification and the empirical evidence of recidivism. The only message which can speak effectively to the all-pervasive problem of justification is the assurance that what happened has been forgiven and is now of no consequence, and how we see ourselves was delusory to begin with.
The Relationship Issue is out the door! Look for it in the mail within the next week. If you haven’t ordered or subscribed, do so here.
In honor of our upcoming merger with Buzzfeed (just kidding), there are a few very commonly used, but imprecisely defined, Christian words which could stand some rethinking in how we use them.
Redemption – Often you hear questions like, “Can ____ be redeemed?” or ask questions like, “How will God redeem that job, that relationship, that bad decision? Will God redeem the suffering caused by Kim Jong-Un?” Or, at one dinner, “Can competition be redeemed?” The word means something like paying a price to buy back someone who is a slave or indebted, clearing their debt from one’s own store. A…
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An enormously heartfelt thank-you to everyone who helped put on our Fall Conference in Houston, TX: our friends at St. Thomas Episcopal Church for hosting, The Magills for playing such fantastic music (click here to check out their stuff on iTunes), Mark and David Babikow for being such lifesavers on the audio/visual front, Jim and Tricia Zucker for making the Slaid Cleaves connection, and many more. We are beyond grateful.
We’re once again making the recordings available at no charge; we only ask that those who were not able to attend this year *consider* making a donation to help cover the…
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The fourth and final installment of Ian Olson & I’s Halloween series for Mbird focuses on Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of a Stephen King novella, The Mist—which has been spoken about briefly before. The film stars Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden & Andre Braugher.
The Mist is a throwback 60’s style creature flick where a group of people are trapped in a grocery store surrounded by a strange, dense mist that came in after an intense storm the night before. If that was not weird enough for the poor captives, those who try to escape the store into the mist seem…
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