Mining Netflix: Performancism and The School of Rock

Mining Netflix: Performancism and The School of Rock

Did you watch the Golden Globes on Sunday? One of the biggest stories from this year was the accolades given to Boyhood, an epic-of-the-ordinary that took 12 years to film. We wrote about Boyhood back when it came out, and if you read that post you’ll get a sense of why its...

On Playing Catch Up (In Case You Missed It)

On Playing Catch Up (In Case You Missed It)

God bless Portlandia. Their first season contained a skit that has proven to be more than a little prophetic. In case you missed it (ICYMI):

On the surface, Fred and Carrie are emphasizing how people compete over being well informed, how prideful our relationship with information has become. They’re lampooning a...

The Cost and Benefit of Forgiveness (Class)

The Cost and Benefit of Forgiveness (Class)

I remember a conversation some years ago where a friend was voicing her chief objection to Christianity. It had nothing to do with science, or politics, or even suffering (at least not explicitly). What she found offensive about the faith was the notion/assertion/accusation that one of our primary needs as...

SPRING CONFERENCE in NYC: Theme and Details

SPRING CONFERENCE in NYC: Theme and Details

THE 8th ANNUAL MOCKINGBIRD CONFERENCE April 16-18, 2015 St George’s Church, New York City

 

“Pardon’s the word to all” – W. Shakespeare

A fresh start. A free pass. An expunged record. To be let off the hook, and not just in theory—that is what it means to be absolved of sin, and...

Je Suis Tired

Je Suis Tired

Having just come off a bevy of year end retrospectives, and faced with the horrible news from France, Nigeria, and half a dozen other places, I keep wondering what we will be saying about this year in late December. If you happen to catch The Today Show or some such...

Aaron Rodgers – “God Doesn’t Care About Football Game Outcomes”

Aaron Rodgers – “God Doesn’t Care About Football Game Outcomes”

Thank you Aaron Rodgers! The Green Bay QB gave a great answer to a question he was asked on his weekly radio show a few days ago during a “mailbag answer” segment. Here’s the exchange:

(Radio Host) Jason Wilde: Melissa says: I always find it a little off-putting when athletes, actors,...

The Impossibility of Knowing I’m Good

The Impossibility of Knowing I’m Good

Hannah Arendt, a non-Christian thinker with a strangely more accurate perception of Christianity than almost anyone, offers some thoughts on the problems with being good:

The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the action of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen...

Spiritual To-Do Lists and Mental Acrobatics

Spiritual To-Do Lists and Mental Acrobatics

A few items were added to my New Year’s to-do list in a Bible study last week:

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek,...

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On Symbols, Dutiful Wives, and Religious Recessions

On Symbols, Dutiful Wives, and Religious Recessions

(Spoilers for George Eliot’s Middlemarch ahead.) Dorothea was a devout and idealistic girl whose greatest desires were to help other people and to serve some high purpose for God. When she met Mr. Casaubon, a scholarly middle-aged man in the midst of writing his opus, a “Key to All Mythologies”, she saw a chance to serve him dutifully as a wife (it was 1830 or so) and was thrilled to be a part of this higher purpose. Yet Casaubon is vain, self-important, and deeply insecure. Dorothea has overestimated both her capacity to sacrifice all for him and has overestimated Casaubon’s value…

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Pimp My Whitewashed Tomb

Pimp My Whitewashed Tomb

Not the actual car- it wasn’t nearly this bad.

The family car was involved in a hit and run last week. Police are still looking for the woman in the red van who sped off, the insurance company is working with us to get the car restored, and we’ve made the appointment with the body shop to get it all fixed. Duct tape has been deployed to keep various automotive parts in place. Can I confess to you that the car is a 2006 PT Cruiser? We’ve affectionately nicknamed it The PT Loser for being a mechanically challenged money-pit. Between…

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Launching a Book (and Squirting Reddi-Whip Into Brian Wilson’s Mouth)

An extremely heartfelt thank you to all who helped put on the launch party for A Mess of Help this past Saturday at The Olmsted Salon in NYC, especially Dusty Brown, Melina Smith, and William Brafford. It was a blast, from start to finish. If you weren’t able to make it (and/or are currently trapped by snow), the audio is available! You can listen below in fact:

I was also gratified to see a couple of reviews crop up on outlets that I greatly respect. Perhaps it’s gauche for the author to publicly thank his critics, but who cares–it’s a rare thing to feel so deeply understood by anyone, let alone people you admire. First, there was John J Thompson’s flattering and supremely articulate write-up for ThinkChristian. The opening remark mirrors how I felt after reading his review:

“I would say that books like David Zahl’s A Mess of Help make me feel less alone in the world, if there were any other books like David Zahl’s A Mess Of Help to be found. The fact is, there are not… With great humor, candor and spiritual insight – and an insanely passionate musical vocabulary – Zahl crafts rant after rant that would be equally at home in the film High Fidelity as in a Bible study. It’s like he’s having a long, funny, interesting and rambling conversation with all of the voices in his head. That some of those voices seem also to be the ones in my head is overwhelmingly comforting.”

That’s the kind of thing that makes you want to keep writing. Prost, Herr Thompson! Second, Curator Magazine published a full-length treatment by William Brafford, who conducted the interview on Saturday. I always knew I liked him…! There are any number of paragraphs I could excerpt. Here’s one:

IMG_6822“Humor and passion practically drip from the pages of A Mess of Help. Love of paradox is said to be Lutheran trait. You’ll find it here, especially in an amazing essay that rediscovers the bizarre Elvis movie Change of Habit in all its kitschy glory. Dave writes, “Elvis Presley was not ridiculous, then amazing. He was both at the same time.” Dave’s collection of bizarre Elvis anecdotes is rivaled only by his collection of bizarre Brian Wilson anecdotes, like the one where Wilson tells a reporter something amazing and profound about God’s love as the power behind the universe, and then totters off into the kitchen to squirt Reddi-Whip into his mouth.”

Thanks again to everyone who came, don’t forget to stay tuned to the Olmsted page for future events, and please, for the love of God, keep on chooglin!

The Tune Stuck in Luther’s Head

A great passage from Steven Paulson’s Luther for Armchair Theologians

Luther said “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. “Bound by the Scriptures” with a conscience “captive to the Word of God” hardly sounds like freedom. But scripture’s freedom has never been an isolated, individualistic, lonely and ultimately death-dealing notion like the ones that capture our imagination today. True freedom is being captivated by Christ’s promise for forgiveness of sins. It is like getting a tune stuck in your head that you can’t get rid of, only this time instead of a legal refrain, “Have you done enough?” it repeats a promise: “God is pleased with you, on account of Christ.”

The Lame Shall Enter First: Grace and Weakness in Flannery O’Connor

Getting close to the end of our video rollout. This one comes from the incomparable Mr. McD:

The Lame Shall Enter First: Grace and Weakness in Flannery O’Connor – Will McDavid from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Hopelessly Devoted: Exodus Chapter Fourteen Verses Twenty One and Twenty Two

This morning’s devotion comes from the one and only Justin Holcomb.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)

This passage is about God showing up in the middle of insecurity and confusion. The Exodus and subsequent journey to the Promised Land are the great moments of deliverance in Jewish history. bible-archeology-red-sea-crossingAs it is written in the Psalms, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot—come, let us rejoice in him” (66:5-6). For thousands of years now, Jews remember and celebrate that God took them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. At the last minute, on their way out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, God divided the Red Sea—had God not provided, they would have died.

To Christians, the Exodus foreshadows the ultimate story of deliverance. It points to the cross—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as “the work of God on our behalf.” The Exodus and the ministry of Jesus both tell us that God provides for those in need, and that God causes life and flourishing where death and destruction try to reign. The Exodus and the cross tell us that God’s operative principle is rescue. God comes near to us—down here in the thick of it—to rescue us.

There is no work we can do in exchange for this rescue: it is undeserved and unearned. As the psalmist highlights the mighty works of God on our behalf, so we see this fulfilled in Christ. Jesus, who came to “fulfill the law,” did the work we couldn’t do, on our behalf. We could never be good enough. We could never fulfill the righteousness required by the Law. God, in the person of Jesus, did the work we couldn’t do for ourselves, and so God attributes Jesus’ work as our work. God exchanges our sin for Jesus’ righteousness. The work of God on our behalf is the best news possible to those in need of rescue.

Another Week Ends: Health As Wealth, A New(ish) Take on Addiction, More DFW, Cellular Dependence, and Francis I

Another Week Ends: Health As Wealth, A New(ish) Take on Addiction, More DFW, Cellular Dependence, and Francis I

1. Whatever form the Law takes, dictated by fickle zeitgeist, it leaves behind a few years later. Forms can be remarkably inconsistent among different demographics, and after we finally escape one form of (little-l) law, we look back and scorn it, wondering how we (or anyone else) ever could’ve gotten so attached to it. For example, masculinity: the more and more we escape the pressure for men to be super macho, the more contemptible we find its earnest expression, as if embarrassed by our previous adherence. Even commercials which target the lowest common denominator of the masculine – such as Axe –…

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Aaron Rodgers – “God Doesn’t Care About Football Game Outcomes”

Aaron Rodgers – “God Doesn’t Care About Football Game Outcomes”

Thank you Aaron Rodgers! The Green Bay QB gave a great answer to a question he was asked on his weekly radio show a few days ago during a “mailbag answer” segment. Here’s the exchange:

(Radio Host) Jason Wilde: Melissa says: I always find it a little off-putting when athletes, actors, and anybody says, “This is what God wanted” or “I want to thank God for helping us win today” — anything along those lines when a game or award is won. I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the gist. Personally, with all the chaos in the world, I’m not sure…

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Grace in Sports (and Practice): Jacob Jarvis and Ohio St. Football

In preparing a new series we’re offering at my church, I was reminded of this post from a few years ago about Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. The man experienced a breakdown following his team’s loss to Alabama in 2009, enough to warrant him stepping away from coaching for a year. One recent interview indicated that indeed things have been going much better for him, personally, since coming back to coach at OSU. That he managed to win another National Championship on the other side of such a wake-up call, strikes me as fantastic news. Much better, at least, than hearing it was simply the product of a return to (old) form. His daughter even reports that they now speak on the phone “five times a day.” Which is to say, the support and connection to his family is apparently stronger than ever, and his work has not suffered for it. But best of all was discovering the video below, which displays just how much Urban’s new set of priorities have trickled over into the lives of his players and, especially, Jacob Jarvis and his younger brother. As Jacob wheels onto the field, holding hands with the players on the team, I couldn’t help but think: “Now that’s imputation, which is love.”

Rick Moody on the Parable of the Hidden Treasure

From the fascinating little volume Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, in which a wide array of American writers offer decidedly non-academic, gut-level interpretations of NT passages. It was edited by Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm, Right Livelihoods, and most recently my personal fave, On Celestial Music) and Darcy Steinke (Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, Easter Everywhere), and published in 1997. This passage from Rick’s introduction stuck out:

51GvNP+0GZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My own interpretation of the parable of the hidden treasure (Mark 13:44) is, somewhat ironically, rigidly allegorical…: the treasure at the heart of this story is the message of the kingdom itself, and the fact of grace offered therein — grace in spite of the way you have lived your life, grace in spite of your crimes or your peccadilloes, grace in spite of your religion, grace in spite of mean birth of lofty one, grace in spite of your sexuality or the color of your skin or your creed or anything else, grace simply because grace is what God gives. That’s the message buried in the New Testament, as treasure is buried in a field, the message often overpowered by the fire and brimstone of evangelists going all the way back to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, through two long millenia of Swaggarts and Robertsons. The Kingdom of Heaven, as opposed to the kingdom of PACs, multinationals, gun lobbyists, tax-exempt charitable organizations, et al., is a place of grace, and this is born out, moreover by the fact that the protagonist of the parable of the hidden treasure is a reprobate. The treasure, after all, is in somebody else’s field when he finds it. The treasure belongs to somebody else. So what kind of guy is this, who has hidden the veritable kingdom of heaven so that he can come back later and swipe it?

He’s like all of us… This hit-and-run, morally dubious miscreant is myself.

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks – Jane Kenyon

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .

Running For Cover: The Unbearable Weight of Goodness in Broadchurch

Running For Cover: The Unbearable Weight of Goodness in Broadchurch

This one comes to us from Nick Rynerson:

Before we get into it, let’s have a quick chat. Nick here. Hey. If you haven’t watched the first season of Broadchurch don’t read this yet. Seriously. Stop. The show is on Netflix right now. Borrow your friend’s password and binge-watch it! It’s only eight episodes. Go on! Get! It’s not that I don’t want you to read this. It’s just that I’m pretty much going to ruin the ending of season one, and it’s a doozy.

Sometimes I wonder why I write. I usually feel guilty after I write something for publications that…

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